“You make me want to be a better man.”
– Melvin Udall, As Good as it Gets
From Al Bundy to Homer Simpson to Peter Griffin, it’s easy to see that the modern view of what it means to be a man and a father has shifted in the media from the days of Ward Clever and Father Knows Best. While all these gentlemen are fictitious, we do know that mass media often reflects the distilled—if comedically distorted—view of the masses.
As society’s concept of a women began to be gratefully challenged in the 1960’s and continues to evolve, empower and improve today, some have seen the concept of masculinity take more negative steps; Men ranging from id-driven, emotionless, success-seeking egotists to beer glugging, meat feasting couch potatoes. Dad’s as stoic or absent to angry or overbearing. If the media is a light reflection of this attitude, the heart-breaking epidemic of single mom’s in this country is a sobering reality that modern masculinity requires a modern redefinition.
The Good Men Project is focused on that sole purpose, while also giving a voice to the “the stunning rise of dads as active, engaged, compassionate parents instead of simply a financial provider over just a few generations,” and many other character advancements that “you’d be hard-pressed to say [are] not a positive change. But the harder question is one of identity” the editors (2015) contend. “What does it mean to actually be a man today?”
In generations past, the role of a women as home-maker, care taker and generally the supportive counterpart to the “provider man” was the norm. Modern times has evened and altered the playing-field. For example, this account: “My wife and I have been together 25 years, and in all that time I have prepared 99.9% of the meals. I do all the laundry, change the sheets on the beds, and much of the housework. Although I have an MBA, she has always been in charge of everything financial. Over the years, we have gone back and forth on who makes more money, but since I gave up being a marketing executive to become a writer she’s definitely leapt ahead. My wife has a second-degree black belt in karate, and could kick my ass. I have a more flexible schedule, and therefore am usually the taxi service for our kids.” These tasks were written as ones often considered part of a women’s role, but by James Fell (2014), columnist, author and fitness badass. Seriously, talk about a guy who on the surface looks like “traditional manhood” from his physique to his former executive career. But Fell would be the first to tell you that he, nor his role, is not defined by those qualities.
And he would tell you this on the internet soap-box and think tank of the Good Men Project.
The Site is the Solution
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
– Edmund Burke, Irish Statesman
Venture capitalist Tom Matlack founded The Good Men Project website in 2009, as he “set out to collect men’s stories about the defining moments in men’s lives,” according to the site’s history (2015). “What he discovered was that the connected idea between all the stories of the men that Tom talked to was that there was a moment when each man ‘woke up, looked in the mirror and said ‘I thought I knew what it meant to be a man. I thought I knew what it meant to be good. And I realize that I don’t know either.’”
The online forum of The Good Men Project does not provide the answer to the question, it provides the safety to ask the question. “The challenge of being a good man creates a fear of failure that sometimes inadvertently leads to shame if you can’t measure up,” said Tom Fiffer, senior editor of Ethics at the project (2015). As is true in many aspects of change, simply admitting that one desires to be different, better, is a crucial act of vulnerability. But in this vulnerability there is strength. “The Good Men Project challenges men’s view of the world,” said Graham Reid Phoenix. “The key to the power of the collective message on the site is the diversity of voices in the men having the conversation. The writers are progressive men, they are comfortable with themselves as men.”
In recovery, simply admitting that we desire to be better, and strive for it every day makes us a daily success. Perhaps The Good Men Project is the answer to the very question each man comes there asking. Perhaps admitting that we desire to be good men and change the view of manhood is—in itself—both good, and manly. “The essence of a man being good is when he looks outside himself…and challenges himself so that he can challenge others. It can be seen in a man who asks what he can do to contribute to improving the world or changing it,” said Phoenix (2014).
A Man, Free to be Good
“Good men are the stars, the planets of the ages wherein they live, and illustrate the times.”
– Ben Jonson, Playwright
The world-change that The Good Men Project appears to be making is not in defining the essence of manhood, it’s liberating the individual man from generations of stereotype and freeing him to begin the journey of self-definition without social shackles. According to Fell (2014), speaking for many on the site, “the whole alpha male construct is too wrapped up in antiquated concepts of masculinity. It implies that you’re supposed to be ‘manly,’ whatever that is. You can do whatever you like that isn’t harmful to others and gives a positive boost to your psyche…there are male dominated things, and there are female dominated things. But the crossover in both directions is increasing. In other words, don’t worry about what it means to be a man. Concern yourself about what it means to be human.”
For the good man on the journey of self-definition, The Good Men Project asks for equal empowerment and support. “Women are empowered by telling them to be like men. There’s this notion of the ‘bad-ass broad’ which is seen as a positive,” according to Fiffer. “But…no one believes that men need to be empowered. Is the sensitive Stay-At-Home dad as empowered as the bad ass broad?” he asked (2015). Presently in modern society, he is not. But there’s hope that he will be. It takes just as much courage today to be a Stay-At-Home dad as any woman in the 80s taking on a traditional male role. But even that comparison is below the aim of the Project, from the perspective of Fell and many others, because the goal is good humanity, not male-female divide at all. Labor is divided; tasks are divided, goodness is to be universal. If a woman wants to live “traditionally,” as in generations past, then so be it. If a man sees traditional masculinity as how he is wired, then he should live it. But key to that life is that it is promoting the goodness in themselves and those around them.
The Good Men Project website, is just a website, after all. But it is an addictive click-fest of humor and insight—so be warned! The Good Men Project (2015) itself lives to show that “Guys today are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Our community is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.”
The Good Men Project that is greater than the group and farther reaching than the website is lived out daily by an ever-increasing number of good men, and that measure will not be fully realized in our modern moment, but it will be unmistakable in the free generations of stronger, better men which continue the journey.
Editors (2015) 21st Century Masculinity. What Does It Mean? Retrieved from: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/21st-century-masculinity-what-does-it-mean-gmp/
Fell, J. (2014) MythBusting: What Does It Mean To Be A Man? Retrieved from: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/mean-man-masculinity-hesaid/
Reid Phoenix, G. (2014) What On Earth Is A Good Man? (And What Is The Good Men Project All About?) Retrieved from http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/earth-good-man-good-men-project-gmp/
The Good Men Project: About Us (2015) The conversation no one else is having. Retrieved from: http://goodmenproject.com/about/